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John Parker, "From Here to There”

John Parker appears tall.  At 6’3”, he was a center for Monrovia High’s varsity basketball team. But there is actually an optical illusion at play; he looks super tall and straight because he stands on the shoulders of those before him. He knows his parents and grandparents all built our foundation in Monrovia. John explains, “My maternal great-grandparents, John (1874-1970) and Lottie (1884-1960) Pinchem, came out from Kansas and had a farm and ranch in Riverside. They had about sixteen children.” John’s paternal grandmother, Ollie Barmore (1903-1976), came to Monrovia from Oklahoma in 1931 with her Pullman porter husband. African American Pullman porters lent support to many African Americans traveling west. John said, “Ollie was a very strong Black woman. She graduated from college in Oklahoma, but California wouldn’t validate her teaching license.” Ollie joined the NAACP suit against Monrovia Unified School District after the 1933 earthquake destabilized Huntington School. She did domestic work for a family above Foothill. Like many other African Americans of that period, Ollie purchased her own home south of Huntington Drive - because of racial covenants. When John and his siblings went to Grandma’s house, they would get a “rich White” breakfast with silverware, orange juice, cinnamon rolls, eggs with Canadian bacon. John said, “I was crazy about my grandmother; she was my best friend.”  John’s parents are Julius (1924-2018) and Hazel Parker (1929-2012). Julius was one of several African Americans from Monrovia that served in World War II – along with Leroy Criss, Norman Ross, and Philip Adams. With his G.I. Bill, Julius bought a home on Central Avenue – south of Huntington Drive - with his bride. They would raise six children but opened their doors to everyone in the neighborhood in the 1950-60s. In fact, the neighbor’s kid, Marvin Inouye, would crawl into one of the Parker’s beds for naps. Marvin’s father gave Bob Bartlett his first job. These children of African Americans, Japanese Americans, Latinos and Whites remain a close-knit group. “People got along here even though there was much turmoil and race problems in the City and in the United States. Our parents came out to prove that African Americans are decent community people. They stayed here through the worst parts and even made it better,” said John referring to the Monrovia race riots of the 1960s. Julius Parker, Mimi Mency, and Reverend G.G. Bailey led a group of community peacemakers.John and other African Americans played athletics. He said, “I was a tiny kid. [In 1966,] I got into high school at 6’1” and 98 pounds.” But the coaches saw something, and he was on varsity basketball for three years, varsity football for three years, and varsity track for two years. Graduating in 1970, John Parker was selected as Athlete of the Year and Wildcat of the Year. He noted, “We athletes got along… As athletes – even at the high school, we all had one common goal and that was to win… I liked team sports. I wasn’t into individual accolades. I loved the team championships; we were all smiling and together.” John earned a full basketball scholarship to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

  But John learned that expectations are too high on young superstars. “There was a lot of pressure to achieve. We always played Fridays and Saturdays then. Everyone was cheering for us since I was in junior high. And after all that, you don’t even know what to do on Fridays and Saturdays. I was lost… After you climb this mountain, nobody tells you that it ends on a cliff.” Upon graduation – and injuries, John had to build a new life focused on work and responsibilities. Bills have to be paid, children have to be fed, and extended family have to be cared for. Perhaps lessons from Ollie, John and Lottie, and Julius and Hazel really kicked in. John tells a story about being a caregiver. “When it was time, my wife and I worked very hard to select a convalescent home for my [90+] daddy. We chose one that was on Foothill and Ivy, right here in town. We were all ready to go but at the very last minute, my dad absolutely refused. It turned out that this home is on the geographical site of the old Lyric Theater. As a teen, Dad worked at the Lyric before the War. It was a segregated institution. We had to find a second convalescent home in Temple City.” “I’ve worked hard, and I’ve never been arrested. As a Black man, that’s saying a lot. I think I’ve gotten stopped about 20 to 30 times in my life. I learned that you just can’t say anything. About three months ago, I got stopped by Monrovia police here on California Avenue. The officer was going down Huntington Drive, and he makes a wide U-turn to follow me. I go down a little way and pull over near some neighbors who know me. I never took my hands off the steering wheel. The officer comes up to my window and asks if I have my seatbelt on. I look down at my belt – never taking my hands off the wheel. I said, ‘Yes, my belt is on.’ He says, ‘Are you sure?’ I’m asking myself, ‘Why are they stopping a 71-year old man? Is this for my seatbelt?’ That bothered me. I’m just so so sad.” John continues, “I don’t consider myself ‘African American,’ I think of myself as an American of African descent. I’m from here. Whites don’t have to say they are European Americans. We African Americans built this country; we contributed to this country. We don’t want anything extra; we just want what’s due to us from the Constitution.” John is an artist, crediting much of his skills to his Monrovia High art teacher, Dorothy Clemmons. John Parker invented the “Green Machine” that adorned the walls of the Monrovia gym for decades. But after the killing of George Floyd during the Covid pandemic, John went back to his drawing table with a vengeance. His pencil works depict elderly and children with gunshot wounds, chains, and depth. John admits that he could actually sell his art work if he drew images of Michael Jackson, Michael Jordon or even trees. “But that’s not me. God gave me a gift to do something else. It may not be liked, but that’s what I do.” Except for his college years, John Parker has lived in Monrovia since he was born. He loves Monrovia. In fact, he is living in the house formerly owned by Camillous Powers (1897-1978), his maternal grandfather. John has great-grandchildren now – who seem to be quite tall for their age.

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